The decision to set Macbeth in the City of London welcomes puns. You can feel them queuing up like credit default swaps; a tottering Meccano set of hubristic commercial euphemism, overwhelmingly prolix, endlessly poised to tumble into an abyss of meaning and credit. Like winter, or like tomorrow and tomorrow, the crash is always coming. All we have to disagree upon is whether it’s the fault of individual greed or institutional prescription.

Infinite Space Theatre's production certainly can’t resist the puntastic setting, and not content with the plethora it finds on stage, the accompanying programme contains a series of mock newspaper front pages resplendent with headlines such as 'Lady Macbeth Wields the Knife' and adverts for products including 'Seyton’s Milk of Magnesia: Gentle Soothing Relief for violent psychopaths and murderers'. (Whether that 'and' is a correlative or coordinating conjunction is, of course, where grammar gets really fun). 

As you might imagine some devices are more successful than others. Casting the weird sisters as different members of the press corps (a city journalist, a gossip columnist and a male paparazzo) is a brilliant stroke. Not only does it offer a context for both the witches prophesying and commentary, it also invites the audience to see Macbeth’s (Steven Maddocks) submission to their authority as craven self-delusion.  

By contrast, Banquo (Ian Grant in cool ironic form), treats them with mordant disdain. At this level Macbeth's tragedy seems to be his alone. Elsewhere however the production seems to suggest Macbeth is simply an interchangeable member of the tribe. Michael Mayne gives a suitably pompous and bellicose performance as Duncan, a blustering CEO unashamed about installing his children in the boardroom, while Macduff, Fleance and Donalbain are a trio of equally ambitious career women, ponytailed, strident and unashamed.

In this context Macbeth's behaviour appears to be the logical extension of an unconstrained market, his fall doesn't lead to the restoration of the old order so much as the transfer of assets to new management. Even so, as much as Macbeth may help us to look at the city with fresh eyes, the city does not help us much in coming to terms with the play.

Steven Maddocks in the lead gives a brilliant technical performance, his fluency throughout is exemplary and yet he delivers his first soliloquy to the floor, the next to the ceiling and a third over a mobile phone, on each occasion having been forearmed by whisky. Bank managers it seems aren't natural rhapsodists. And what is his relationship with Lady Macbeth? According to the programme she's the bank's Operations Manager – but does this means they're still married? Or are they conducting an affair? Or working together in a temporary alliance?  

Danielle Stagg as Lady Macbeth seems to be pitched somewhere between alcoholic trophy wife and PR harridan, but without the connection to her husband explicit her motives are inscrutable. She starts out angry and gets… angrier. As the tragedy builds, the pressure to chivvy the plot into a modern context closes like a trap. Banquo's assassins wear hoodies and murder him when he goes out jogging — even with the lights turned low the politics are cumbersome and the action almost farcical. Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost every time a camera flashes. The industrial music between scenes becomes gratingly intrusive. More and more energy seems to be sucked into keeping the enterprise afloat at the expense of deeper investigations of character. (An effort to present Malcolm as an outsider to the business world almost works but is undermined by Thom Petty's quiet delivery, the consequence partly of the strange decision to place him with his back to two thirds of the audience).

The night I attended the cast weren't helped by possibly the worst audience I've seen at the theatre. Nevertheless as grim as the volleys of coughing, back row chatting and bizarre sight of horizontal teenagers flopped along benches was — it is hard to elude the thought that a more compelling show wouldn't have suffered to the same extent. Instead a talented company seem to have been misled into trying to recalibrate the tragedy as a dry comment on a dull enterprise. London might be the heartland of the global finance industry but its tawdry world of sociopaths, spivs and bean counters just doesn't deserve this kind of flattering attention.

Macbeth, at The Cockpit Theatre

Is this a collateralised debt obligation I see before me? Macbeth makes a killing at the Cockpit Theatre.

3